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Five Questions for author Mike Robbins

In Be Yourself, Everyone Else Is Already Taken (now on bookshelves, Wiley) author Mike Robbins explores how difficult it is for many of us to be authentic in our career paths. Women For Hire asked him Five Questions.

1) I was laid off after 15 years with a major company. My husband and family depend on my added income. I’m finding it hard to see any silver lining. Are there certain steps I should take to find the good in this?

First of all, be honest with how you are feeling – your real feelings (anger, fear, frustration, stress, worry, guilt, etc) and allow yourself to feel and express these with passion. Pretending that you’re “fine” won’t help the situation or allow you to move through it.

But, like any emotion, when we feel and express what is true, it has a way of dissipating. You may need some support (friend, counselor, coach, spouse, etc) to help support you in a kind and caring way as you work through some of your real feelings.

Then, you can start to focus on the opportunity in front of you – what are you grateful for about the chance to make a change (even if you didn’t want to). What new opportunities are now available? You may also want to reach out for support on this as well.

2) I’ve been working at the same firm for 9 years and I hate coming to work every day. But the job market is terrible so I’m stuck. What to do?

You are not alone. Forgive yourself for taking and keeping a job that you hate. Have compassion for yourself and your frustration. And, if you’re willing – reach out to as many people as you can and let them know how you feel (friends, family, co-workers, etc.).

There are lots of resources available – books, coaches, workshops, and people you know – which can help you as you figure out what to do next. If you’re too scared to quit your job, especially given the nature of the job market, start volunteering.

Seek out people who seem passionate about what they do and talk to them. Start thinking about, talking about, and writing down what you’d love to be doing…and trust yourself enough to know that when the time is right, you can make that jump (if and when you’re willing to deal with your fear and ask for the support that you need).

3) I’m a 45-year-old woman and my boss, also a woman, is nasty and mean and seems to take delight in critiquing me. Recently I told her that I did not appreciate all her negative comments and she said too bad – that in this economy everyone is lucky to have any job. Is there a way for me to keep my job without going crazy?

Wow, this seems like a pretty challenging situation and relationship with your boss. Remember, however, as Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.” While it may be challenging and she is your boss, you can practice taking back your power from her and not allowing her actions and words to upset you so much.

Also, notice if when you talk to her or when you gave her that feedback if it was done in a way that was critical or judgmental (which is how most of us, myself included, often give feedback – especially when we are upset or scared).

The “truth” is that she does and says things that upset you…not that she is a “negative” person. It’s all a subjective opinion, as many things are in life. However, when we let people know what they do and how it impacts us specifically, without judging them, we have the best chance of influencing their behavior and building a stronger more positive relationship with them.

4) In Your book, you talk about roles in the workplace can pigeonhole people, such as women (but not men) are supposed to be nurturers; that men are breadwinners, that HR is for women etc. What steps can employees take to change that?

First of all, it is important for all of us to talk about these things in the open – not hide them or pretend they don’t exist. The only way the can change (even more than they already have) is by us talking about them openly and honestly.

We also have to remember that even these things are open to interpretation and difference of opinion…it is not black and white. One of my favorite sayings is “Argue for your limitations and they’re yours.” Many of us buy into these roles and stereotypes, even if they are about us, and play that role in our careers.

We don’t have to do this, although it takes a great amount of courage, strength, and passion to speak up about these things and work to change them. We have made so much progress in the past, we can continue to do so as long as we stay open and speak from our hearts about it.

5) Over the past several decades companies have taken major strides to recruit women into their ranks. I’m worried that in these tough times these initiatives are going to fade fast. What is your opinion and what can women do to keep their place in corporate America?

My sincere hope is that with the economic downturn women won’t be impacted more severely than men. However, I believe that sexism still exists in many places and in significant ways throughout our culture and specifically in business.

With that said, I think women (just like men) have to pay closer attention to themselves these days and really focus on showing up in the most open, honest, and powerful way possible.

As counter-intuitive as it may seem right now, all of us (male and female), need to focus more on being ourselves, speaking our truth, and doing what we feel to be the right thing to do – than we do on playing the game, kissing up, and worrying so much about how it will all turn out. It’s not easy, in general and especially right now, to be authentic…but it is more important than ever.


  1. Jan Thomas

    This is re the mean, nasty, negative boss:
    I had one of those several years ago and a friend gave me this advice ~ which worked:
    Pretend that when you go to work each day you are just an actor playing a role so that nothing this boss says directly impacts you as a person ~ s/he is just talking to the character you play, not to YOU.
    It worked wonders for me!

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